Aptly described by Ira Berlin as slaves without masters, free people of color in antebellum North America were beset by laws and social conditions that rendered them little more than slaves. In recent years, however, scholars have explored free blacks whom sometimes challenged this status by achieving meaningful degrees of economic and social stability in the antebellum South. This essay examines such a group—a segment of free black farmers in the rural parishes surrounding Charleston, South Carolina, whose farming strategies, production, and rural lives were quite similar to their yeoman-class white neighbors. These free black farmers crossed the boundary between race and class by establishing economic self-sufficiency through farm production and then by cultivating important, yet often fragile and contingent, social advantages in their rural communities.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.